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Friday, October 2, 2015

Stanhopea wardii

As the summer Stanhopea season winds down, I'm continuing to photograph our collection for our image library. They are beautiful. The shiny black eyespots are wardii's calling card -most (but not all) plants have them. This accession of Stanhopea wardii has a burnt orange and yellow hypochile. It smells strongly of cineole (camphor).
Above, I've removed the sepals and petals, leaving just the broadly winged column, lip and pedicel.
The lip and pedicel after I've removed the column.
Stanhopea wardii ranges south of Honduras, from Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama to Colombia and Venezuela, where it grows as an epiphyte at 800 to 1600 meters elevation in humid cloud forests -a good candidate for an intermediate (60º night minimum) greenhouse.

Friday, September 25, 2015

ABG's Conservation Nursery

An hour north of Atlanta, tucked away in a remote pocket of the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Gainseville campus, is ABG's Conservation Safeguarding Nursery. The wooden lath houses and raised beds contain the genetic riches of some of the most distinctive and critically endangered plant populations in the Southeastern United States: North American Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia species), Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia), and Georgia Plume (Elliotia racemosa).

The purpose of the two acre nursery is to safeguard the genetic variation contained in specific plant populations that are on the verge of disappearing.

Offsite safeguarding of a population's genetic diversity is a type of ex situ conservation which, like seed banking, supports in situ conservation efforts like monitoring, protection, habitat restoration, habitat management and reintroduction. Beyond safeguarding, ABG's Conservation Nursery ultimately provides material for reintroduction.

The nursery, which is not open to the public, is tended by Ron Determann and his staff. I visited the nursery on an overcast Thursday and I was immediately enchanted. It was lush and still except for the rustle of the surrounding canopy and the intermittent call of a northern flicker.


Among the most critically endangered ecosystems in the US is the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) ecosystem, which historically occupied most of the southeastern coastal plain. This ecosystem includes carnivorous plant wetlands, or bogs. Found in wet flatlands or seepage slopes, carnivorous plant bogs are characterized by wet sandy soils that are nutrient poor. Current estimates suggest that carnivorous plant bogs now occupy less than 3% of its former range due to fire suppression, commercial forestry, agriculture and urbanization. The vast wetland panoramas of stately pitcher plants that were once common in the Southeast exist in only a remnant of fragmented locations today.

The most distinctive element of our Southeastern bogs are the carnivorous pitcher plants (Sarracenia species). For the last three and a half decades, Ron has done pioneering work on the cultivation, propagation and conservation of Sarracenia species.

There are about 100 beds of Sarracenia at the nursery, with more under construction. Over the years Ron has honed the sustainable growing of Sarracenia in long term cultivation. There are no potted Sarracenia plants. In order to replicate the sloping topography, sandy soil and high water table of their natural environment, Ron has designed ground beds with a sloping bottom, a liner, a sand layer, and a peat/sand soil mixture. The beds are joined by a drip irrigation system. A properly built bed can sustain Sarracenia seedlings for a decade or more.

All Sarracenia plants in the nursery are first generation seedlings from wild seed sources; there is no hybridizing; and no seed is allowed to form. Each bed contains a sampling of the genetic diversity of a single population.

Each Sarracenia seedling or batch of seedlings is assigned a code name that identifies the population from which it came. The code name references GPS locality data for each population. When the seedlings are planted in a bed, a label bearing the code is attached to the frame of the bed.

Seed grown Sarracenia oreophila, Dekalb Co., Alabama
Sarracenia oreophila is one of three federally listed endangered Sarracenia species. Its remaining range consists of fragmented wetlands in Alabama and Georgia and adjacent North Carolina. It grows on sandy hillside seeps and river edges in areas with a distinctly drier autumn. Ron believes that its habitat was probably more open at one time. With fire suppression, its habitat has trended toward mesic hardwood with increasing shade. Some of the plants are in decline and he sees little seedling recruitment. Some of the sites are not properly protected and there are recent signs of seed poaching. ABG is working with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, private land owners, the Georgia DNR and Nature Conservancy to  restore original populations. Some of the seedlings produced by ABG are used for restoration and augmentation. Of the known oreophila populations in the US, eighteen are represented in nursery for safeguarding.

Seed grown Sarracenia alabamensis, Autauga Co. Alabama
All known populations of the Federally listed alabamensis and jonesii are represented in this nursery. Both species grow in habitats associated with flowing water and gravelly or sandy soils.

Sarracenia alabamensis is known from only ten populations in three counties in Alabama. ABG has helped in an advisory capacity and with restoring original populations on private land. Some of the populations have been augmented the F1 seedlings produced by ABG.

Seed grown Sarracenia jonesii, Henderson So., North Carolina
Sarracenia jonesii habitat is among the rarest of carnivorous plant communities -hillside seeps or montane and cataract bogs- always restricted in distribution, and therefore vulnerable. It is not widespread from state to state. There are just 10 known populations in five counties in North Carolina and South Carolina. ABG has helped with restoration of mountain bogs in North Carolina.

Seed grown Sarracenia rubra ssp. gulfensis, Walton Co., Florida
ABG has produced hundreds of Sarracenia rubra ssp. gulfensis seedlings for conservation efforts in Florida.

Seed grown Sarracenia rubra ssp. wherryi, Baldwin Co. Alabama
Seed grown Sarracenia rubra ssp. rubra, Taylor Co. Georgia
Seed grown Sarracenia leucophylla, Sumter Co. Georgia
The only population of Sarracenia leucophylla in Georgia consists of a handful of plants on a power line easement belonging to Georgia Power. The site's water flow has been interrupted by irrigation to an adjacent field of cotton and soybean. Fertilizer runoff has further degraded the site. Without intensive management, the long term survival of the site is in question.

Seed grown Sarracenia psittacina, Marion Co., Georgia
Seed grown Sarracenia flava, Colquitt Co. Georgia
Seed grown Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa, Tattnal Co., Georgia
In Georgia, Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa is known from only one site. Historically, the site has had multiple owners. Currently it is in private hands and is managed by the Georgia DNR with the landowner's permission. Sites that are owned by private individuals can have an uncertain future.

Sarracenia oreophila seedlings, germinated in ABG's conservation greenhouse

Torreya taxifolia

Torreya taxifolia
Torryea taxifolia (Florida Torreya) is considered the rarest conifer in North America and one of the most endangered in the world. It is endemic to cool moist bluffs and ravines along a 65 km stretch of the Appalachicola River in Gadsden and Liberty Cos. in Florida and in Decatur Co., Georgia. Estimates show that it has declined 99% since pre-settlement population levels, from an estimated 357,500 individuals in 1914 to 400-600 individuals in 2010. In 1984 it was listed as a federally endangered species. Florida Torreya has historically grown to 60' in the wild, but like the American Chestnut, most of the remaining trees are only stump sprouts between 1 to 3 feet tall. No one has reported seeing any seedlings in the wild in decades. The rapid decline is attributed primarily to fungal disease (Fusarium torreyae), but recent changes in hydrology, forest structure, additional pathogens and deer rubbing have also contributed. No naturally resistant clones have been identified. Its survival may depend on cultivation in botanical gardens, universities and state parks.

ABG's safeguarding efforts with Florida Torreya started 1989. As the Center for Conservation's collection holder for Torryea taxifolia, ABG received 150 cuttings different genotypes from Arnold Arboretum. Currently there are 350 clones in two shade houses at the Conservation Nursery. Each cutting grown plant has highly accurate GPS locality data from the original plant. ABG's ex situ conservation program for Torryea taxifolia is the largest  in the US.

In addition to safeguarding, ABG has been working with the Florida Division of Environmental Protection and the Florida Park Service and the University of Florida to find, record and map each individual to better understand the distribution and survivorship of the current trees.

Elliottia racemosa

Elliottia racemosa (Georgia Plume)
Elliottia racemosa is Georgia endemic native to the coastal plain sand hills. It is classified by the state of Georgia as a protected plant. Its sites are impoverished by the use of herbicides in commercial forestry.

Elliottia racemosa seedlings germinated in ABG's conservation greenhouse
There are about 35 populations in GA, but many are single clone populations. Elliotia is self incompatible, therefore in single clone populations it produces no seed. Ron has obtained natural seed set by planting a variety of genotypes in close proximity. The seeds of this handsome tree germinate readily in cultivation.

Sarracenia, Torryea and Elliottia are part of Georgia's disappearing natural heritage. Many of these extraordinary plants are unique to our area and are of global significance. ABG is helping to conserve them and the Conservation Nursery plays an important role in those efforts.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ida cinnabarina

Such a shy plant, this Ida (syn. Sudamerlycastecinnabarina. Its nodding flower faces the ground, the interior visible only to surface dwellers and I had to get down on my hands and knees in the Tropical High Elevation House and gently prop the flower on a Macleania leaf in order to get an eye level view. I was startled to find a bold lip the color of cinnabar.

Cinnabar is the common name of mercuric sulfide, the ore from which mercury is extracted. The bright scarlet mineral was at one time the source of the pigment used in Chinese red lacquer.

Ida cinnabarina is a large terrestrial, or sometimes lithophytic orchid that grows at 1900 to 2600 meters elevation in bright light in Ecuador, Peru, and possibly Colombia. Henry Oakeley, in Lycaste, Ida and Anguloa (2008), states that the flowers secrete nectar from the base of the sepals and from the underside of the lip. 'Streams of small black ants form endless chains collecting the nectar, and in turn it is proposed, protecting the flower from hungry caterpillars.' But the ants are not the pollinators. According to Oakeley, Calaway Dodson reported seeing the flowers visited by Xylocopas (carpenter) bees at Baños, Ecuador. Between dusk and midnight, the flowers are said to be fragrant of wintergreen. Looks like I'll be returning after dark to find out.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Cobra

It was like carrying a pet snake into a room full of people. It's always fun bringing this guy, Bulbophyllum grandiflorum, out of the backup greenhouses and into the Orchid Display House. Our Cobra makes friends easily, in spite of its menacing appearance.

The genus Bulbophyllum has been described as the Old World counterpart of the neotropical genus Pleurothallis, at least with regard to pollination. Bulbophyllum species have some of the same lures in their floral tacklebox: waving hairs, mobile appendages, red splashed carrion colors, the odor of decaying flesh. The lures attract flies who pollinate the flowers.

Notice the translucent 'windows' (fenestrations) on the dorsal sepal? Bulbophyllum grandiflorum shares this feature with some unrelated insect-trapping plants like Sarracenia minor, Darlingtonia californica and Nepenthes aristolochiodes. An insect trapped inside the flower (or pitcher) flies toward the light source, crashes into the back and falls toward the pollen source (or digestive juice) below.

Wondering what's inside the flower? Here's a closer look.

The huge sepals are what give this flower its hooded cobra-like appearance. The petals are tiny by comparison. The lip, which has a lovely fringe of purple hairs, is hinged -it is connected to the base of the column by a narrow flexible ligament that allow the lip to tip like a seesaw under the weight of an insect. As the insect redistributes its weight, the lip tips up, slamming the insect against the column and releasing the pollinarium onto the insect's body.

I was surprised to see that the lip flexes not only up and down, but also laterally, as you can see in the photo above. I'm not sure what purpose this serves, if any.

The flower in profile.

Here's the flower with one of the lateral sepals removed. From this angle, you can see that the lip, which has purple spots in its center, is oval and concave like a drum. It is turned slightly away from the viewer. This lateral movement to the right and left was persistent and it was present in all the flowers on this plant.

The genus Bulbophyllum is so large that it has been divided into sections. Bulbophyllum grandiflorum is just one species in Bulbophyllum section Hyalosema. There are more cobras! You can find pictures of them at Jay Pfahl's website.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Saturday Morning in the Orchid Center

Rhyncholaelia digbyana
The Orchid Center has three full time staff. We work weekends in rotation. Weekend duty always feels like Thanksgiving morning to me: a mad rush to make things perfect because company's coming in three hours! Up before dawn, drive to work in the dark, unlock the greenhouses, water, deadhead, clean up fallen leaves, sweep, fill ponds, water some more, remove faded plants, bring out new plants in time for our first visitors at 9 am. When I'm lucky, there's time for a few early morning pictures.

Anguloa uniflora, one of the Andean Tulip Orchids. The flowers smell like wintergreen
Anguloa flowers appear simultaneously with the new shoots
Lockhartia obtusata, a Braided Orchid from Panama and Colombia. Lockhartia flowers produce oil as a food reward for their bee pollinators
Paphiopedilum volonteanum occurs in Sabah, Borneo
Lockhartia amoena, a Braided Orchid and Brassia arcuigera, a Spider Orchid
Isochilus major in the Tropical High Elevation House. Native to Mexico and Central America
The Orchid Center is wonderfully still and serene in the morning (after 9 am, that is.) Stop by this weekend!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Wolf's Head

The sweet spicy fragrance that hits you upon entering the Orchid Display House comes from this plant, an unnamed Lycomormium species. It is a complex fragrance. To my uneducated nose, it's nutmeg and camphor. An unconventional pairing to me, but appealing to male Euglossine bees, who as pollinators, are entitled to their preferences.

All of the Lycomormium species in our collection are hefty plants when mature, with long (3 ft.) accordion-pleated leaves. Like Stanhopea and Acineta, two other members of the orchid subtribe Stanhopeinae, Lycomormium species produce pendant spikes that grow down through the substrate, so we grow our plants in slatted baskets to allow the spikes to emerge.

So, what's up with the name Lycomormium? Lykos (wolf) and mormo (ghost) is an intriguing combination. Pedro Ortiz, in 'Orchids of Colombia', says that when seen from the front, the column appears to have a pair of teeth projecting from under the anther, giving it the look of a wolf's head. Reichenbach, who named this genus, must have been looking at a type specimen of  L. squalidum with more impressive teeth than our species possesses.

If you're not a Euglossine bee, a Lycomormium can be a right pain to pollinate -like trying to stuff a fat pair of rabbit's ears into a mail slot. It seems to be easier if the flower has been without its anther cap for a day. We grow our plants in a mixture of long-fibered sphagnum and chopped coarse tree fern fiber. A couple of years ago we relocated our Lycomormium baskets to a brighter cooler location next to the wet wall in our back up greenhouses, with good results -stronger plants and more inflorescences.

Monday, June 8, 2015

June Openings

Ah, summer. June is a terrific month to visit the Orchid Center because of the large number and variety of orchids in our permanent collection that are flowering. The Laelia purpurata varieties are the undisputed stars of this month. But there are lots of others.

A perfectly formed Paphiopedilum acmodontum slipper fresh from its morning shower. This seedling is flowering for the first time this year. It has lovely mottled foliage. Acomontum is native to the Philippines.

This Lycomormium species has thick waxy flowers with a sweet spicy fragrance.

Pink and jade. Paphiopedilum liemianum is a Sumatran species that is easy to confuse with P. chamberlainianum and P. glaucophyllum, but is immediately distinguished by its leaf margins, which have short stiff hairs. It grows on limestone at 600 to 1000 meters elevation according to Phillip Cribb. I like the balletic positioning of the petals on this plant.

Lots of orchid excitement this month. Stop by and bring your camera!
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